Reports from Pakistan
Shop keepers reopen
Reports from Afghanistan
Buzkashi in Mazar-e-Sharif
Mazar-e-Sharif carpet sales
|Saleem Khanís walks among the 14 fresh graves of his family.||Nelvin Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune|
|By Marcus Stern
Copley News Service
-- Saleem Khanís bloodshot eyes reflected the weight of immeasurable loss, not just for the 14 family members under fresh burial mounds in a family garden, but also for the 270 shopkeepers whose families will remain destitute until he rebuilds his Kaghan Road Bazaar, where they had their shops.
An Oct. 8 earthquake centered near this pastoral Himalayan gateway lifted the ground six feet in some places, according to residents, killing thousands and leveling most of the city. Some 400 children alone perished when their classrooms collapsed on them.
Before the massive quake, Balakot was a town of roughly 70,000 straddling the jade-white waters of the Khunar River. Because of its strategic location on the road to the scenic Kaghan Valley and many of the worldís tallest mountains, Balakot was a flourishing tourism center.
Today, it lies in ruin.
Two months after the quake, the scene is one of utter devastation. Men with sledge hammers pound away at concrete slabs to salvage rebar. Survivors keep themselves busy with chores in a warren of tent villages pitched in and around the ruins of their city. They wash their clothes, dishes and themselves in a nearby stream. Lentils or rice are delivered twice a day in an oversized fire-blackened pot.
|The dead have been buried, the injured evacuated and tents set up. Now Balakotís survivors, numbering in the tens of thousands, seem stuck somewhere between stunned and despair. Their lives, like their homes, lie in ruin.
They all have lost husbands, wives, parents, children or siblings. They have no shops or jobs. They have no homes or hope. Their city is gone, perhaps forever.
After the earth heaved and ruptured on the morning of Oct. 8, Saleem Khan gathered himself up and raced to his home. He found his mother partially buried in the rubble of their majestic 32-room house. She was badly injured and crying for water. He went running, searching. But there was no water. He raced home and found her dead.
His mother is among the 14 family members buried in fresh graves in the garden. So are his wife and a son. Balakot is sprinkled with thousands of such fresh graves, many of them containing more than one body. People here put the death toll at 35,000, a figure that canít be confirmed. Half the population died, they say. That canít be confirmed either. What is clear is that fresh graves are scattered throughout the ruins of Balakot. No one was spared the loss of a loved one.
|As he moves through the rubble of the bazaar, shopkeepers rush up one by one and place their cupped hands in his, bowing respectfully. When a reporter asks when they will reopen their shops they turn with expectant eyes to Saleem Kahn and say it is up to him. It will be whenever he rebuilds the Kaghan Road Bazaar, they say. Saleem Khan proffers a weak smile to each shopkeeper and his bloodshot eyes summon warmth from somewhere. Sounds of sledgehammers echo around him. But his mind is elsewhere. Perhaps, in his mind, he is still searching for water for his mother.
Muhammad Mawab, 45, a watchmaker, lost his wife, one son, his shop and his house to the quake. Mohd Miskeenís machine shop lay in ruins under its collapsed roof.
Balakot had 30 barbershops. Forty-five days after the quake, barber Muhammad Jawad put a chair on the roadside overlooking the rubble and tents. He set up a nightstand with a mirror in front of the chair and people began lining up for haircuts. Soon two other barbers set up outdoor chairs.
Like spring daffodils, the makeshift outdoor barbershops along the main road are the first signs that Balakotís business community, its lifeblood, is reviving. Jawad said he has about 30 customers a day. His actual shop was not completely destroyed, and he hopes to reopen it in several months.
A shop owner built a makeshift kitchen on the sidewalk in front of the store where he sold car batteries. Balakot has no need for car batteries these days. So he sells hot snacks to passerby. Across the street, boys have put an assortment o